One of Us Is Next

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for One of Us Is Lying. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Tonight’s review actually serves two purposes. Firstly, this post is the 550th review on this site. Yay for us and thank-you, as always, for your continuing support. This post is also to raise awareness for World Book Night, which is tomorrow. More information on that shortly…

One of Us Is Next was written by Karen M. McManus and first published in 2020. It is a mystery story which focuses on a group of students who are forcibly engaged in a deadly game of Truth or Dare. The novel is a direct sequel to One of Us Is Lying (2017), so I would strongly recommend reading the novels in sequence to fully appreciate what is going on.

A year has passed since Simon’s death, yet the students of Bayview High have never forgotten the horrible game he played. Copycat sites have popped up every now and then, but the school’s strict anti-cyber bullying policy has quickly had them shut down. At last, the “Bayview Four” – Bronwyn, Addy, Cooper and Nate – have been allowed to get on with their lives and graduate. However, it soon becomes clear that the game is not over for those that they have left behind.

It starts as a harmless text from an unknown sender, targeting every student in Maeve’s year. The messenger says that he will be contacting one student with a Truth or Dare. If they forfeit, one of their secrets will be sent directly to everyone they know. No one truly believes it until the sender reveals Phoebe’s dark shame to everyone – a secret that no one else should have been able to find out.

The students quickly become hooked on the game, with everyone keen to choose “Dare” to avoid their secrets being leaked. However, when one of the dares goes horribly wrong and a student is killed, Maeve and her friends realise that the game hides some sinister purpose. Was the death planned and, if so, how does the mastermind seem to know everything about them?

Before I begin, let’s talk about World Book Night. This is a national celebration of reading that takes place every year on 23rd April. The purpose of the event is to bring the joy of reading to everyone, especially those who maybe aren’t fortunate enough to have access to books. To facilitate this, The Reading Agency selects a shortlist of books from a variety of genres and donates them to libraries, youth centres and prisons, all with the goal of reaching as many people as possible. This year, one of their chosen books is One of Us Is Next, which is why I’ve decided to review this novel today.

I was actually a little surprised to learn that One of Us Is Lying had a sequel, as the novel certainly felt as though it should stand alone. Simon’s deceit was uncovered over the course of the story and, despite the fact that all of the protagonists’ secrets had been publicly revealed, the ending was surprisingly positive for each of them. However, while not entirely necessary, One of Us Is Next was actually pretty satisfying read.

As with the original novel, the prose of One of Us Is Next is very fast-paced and easy to follow. This certainly made it a great choice for World Book Night, as it was quick to capture my interest and the conversational way in which the story was presented made the plot flow. As previously displayed in One of Us Is Lying, the thing that McManus truly excels at is building realistic teenage characters. This book does not use tired stereotypes, avoiding using cookie-cutter archetypes like nerds and jocks by presenting characters who are wonderfully complex. Although characters frequently make assumptions about each other (as teenagers are want to do), the novel does a fantastic job of revealing its cast’s multi-faceted personalities as the plot thickens.

However, the plot did not feel quite as satisfying this time around. Nothing in One of Us Is Lying felt beyond the realms of believability, from Simon’s death to his mean-spirited gossip blog. However, the Truth or Dare game went a lot further than this. The scale of this game was just too vast, as it basically affected an entire class of students rather than a chosen four. The concept reminded me too much of Butter, and therefore had the same fatal flaw. I just couldn’t believe that the entire school would be able to keep the game a secret from parents, teachers and the authorities. Given the damage that Simon had done the previous year, you would have thought that at least one nervous student would have had the sense to tell someone!

The pacing of the story also slowed dramatically in its second half. While the opening chapter of the novel revealed that at least one student would die, the identity of this person is not revealed until the mid-point of the story. After this, the plot of One of Us Is Next changed quite drastically. The Truth or Dare game – the driving force of the first half – completely fades to the background as the mystery becomes a lot further reaching.

While I won’t say anything more here for fear of spoilers, I will just note that found this second act to be less gripping. The pace of the first half was maintained by my curiosity regarding what the revealed truths (or the nature of each dare) would be. With this lost, the novel could not keep up its fast pace and I quickly got a handle on who the villain had to be.

While the guilty party was a bit easy to guess, One of Us Is Next does do a brilliant job of fleshing out their motives in the final act. The climax of the novel unveils twist after twist, neatly drawing together all of the threads of the plot (including some that I just figured were just there in the name of world-building) to form a satisfying conclusion. At least, this was the case until the sting. Sadly, the final twist is not revealed until the final couple of pages and this is where it all fell down for me. This last reveal just pushed my suspension of disbelief to the limit. While the ending of One of Us Is Lying was pretty positive on the whole, One of Us Is Next left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

In terms of character, One of Us Is Next was certainly equally as strong as its prequel. While the Bayview Four do have minor roles in this story, the first-person narrative this time flits between Maeve (Bronwyn’s sister) and her two friends, Phoebe and Knox. While each of their narrative voices did sometimes sound a bit samey, all three of them were very sympathetic and wonderfully fleshed out.

Each of the core protagonists had a complex home life, which McManus presented with the utmost delicacy. Through this, the novel was able to explore the impact that things like the death of a parent and a child with cancer has on family. All of these subplots were treated with equal care and helped to flesh out the affected characters. I found myself fond of Knox in particular – a young man who had grown up surrounded by women and felt like a disappointment to his strict, masculine father. The novel did a great job of exploring his feelings of inadequacy through this awkward relationship.

Anyhow, I think that covers everything. All in all, One of Us Is Next is certainly worth a read if you enjoyed the original. While I didn’t think the plot was quite as strong, it is still a well-written mystery with a complex core cast. I will certainly be reading more of McManus’s work in the future.

One of Us Is Next can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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